Saturday, January 15, 2011


I remember my first days at Heartline Field Hospital, reading through charts, trying to familiarize myself with our earthquake patients -- trying to grasp the essence of the patients lying side by side in our courtyard-turned-hospital ward. Chart after chart...."buried under a house for 3 killed...a wall fell on him...a block crushed her....parents killed....wandered without care for four weeks...innocent bystander shot by police..." Blankly, I continued to open charts, digesting the undigestable.

People ask how Haitians survived this time. I remember faces staring blankly sometimes, with great depths of emptiness. Homeless. Parentless. Familyless. Jobless. Futureless. Minds turned inward, reviewing hideous memories. Impossible memories. With only occasional moments of overt grief. A mother with PTSD, herself with a healing femur fracture, who would suddenly start screaming when the memory of her dead two year old flashed into her mind. She would grip her chest, and scream and scream, crying that her heart was going to stop. And indeed, in those moments, if sadness could stop a heart, I truly believe hers would have. Hers, and so many around her.

And so, at times, even my own.

But, I learned in those early days.. sadness doesn't stop a heart.

Thank God.

Joy, in contrast, is an amazing thing when it acts on a heart. And love.

How is it, that the father of one of our young patients turned out to be a Haitian minister? And that he would make it his business to preach to our patients? And return, day after day to them, even in the weeks after his daughter was discharged. And that every night, he would spontaneously stand up in our courtyard and lead our patients in prayer -- in a way that only Haitian ministers can do? (That is -- pacing almost wildly around the center of our hospital, screaming out to God until his voice went hoarse, and pulling our patients almost physically from the depths of their emotional darkness...Reconnecting them with their lives, their souls, their spirituality.)

I am not an overtly spiritual person. But I recall the warm nights of post earthquake Haiti, when my feet, almost against my will, would drag me to the doorway to our courtyard. I would lean unobtrusively against the hospital's stone wall, slightly hidden behind a flowering tree. And watch the electricity of these people and these moments. The exquisite, palpable spirituality of these patients. Despite pain, exhaustion, physical and emotional fatigue. Their hands would slowly, hesitantly, lift in prayer. Then, more forcefully sway. Reaching up. Then clap. Then voices, singing in unison. United with a palpable energy. Singing songs of faith. And thanks... In the absolute darkness of their lives.

No matter the pain of the day. No matter the trauma. The torment. The angst. The visions. The memories. No matter the hours in the sun, spent riding past crumpled buildings and crumpled lives. Community and spirit and love and joy... nightly brought our people back to life.

I recorded some of these songs on my phone on those dark, tropical nights. And in the year since then, have occasionally listened to my ten minutes of riotous Haitian mass.... at the end of a crazy day in my clinic in America, or driving across the vast empty expanses of Alaska, or sitting on a bus in New Orleans. A reconnection to the souls and the love that was Heartline Field Hospital in 2010 -- a hospital that rose from nothing, in the courtyard of an orphanage in Port au Prince, upon the wills of individuals...who knew, together, they could contribute, and make a difference, in the darkest time in people's lives.

On this anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, here's a thank you. To the nurses. The doctors. The translators. The Big White Truck driver. The guy in the white socks getting smacked in the face with palm trees. The physical therapists. The intimidating body guards in lavendar Crocks. The cooks. The nannies. The girls with the jump ropes. The sleepless midwives. The ministers. The giggling children. The new mamas, loving their babies. The new papas, loving their wives. The spiders, rats, insomniac chickens and lizards that roll their Rs in the darkness. The surgeon in the floppy safari hat. The anesthesiologist, who cared for Amanda...and revealed he had survived her exact same injury. The heroes, learning to walk again. Learning to live again. The survivors. And those who were lost. Too violently. Too exquisitely soon.

Thank you for filling my heart this past year.

I lay in bed as the clock struck midnight on January 12, 2011. One year to the day of the disaster. Back in Haiti. Beneath my mosquito net. High pitched buzzing of an insect swirling about my ear. Suddenly, in the dark, in the street, over the wall, rolled the sound of a spontaneous Haitian mass. An almost screaming, hoarse minister. Clapping hands, stomping feet. A massive crowd. Calling out in joyous song. On and on and on they sang and clapped, for hours, before I dropped back off to sleep.

Singing Alleluhia.

Alleluhia? For what? For a horrifying anniversary? For ongoing poverty? Infinite struggle? Hunger? Homelessness? Sprawling tent cities? The stench of smoky air? Malaria and cholera? Lack of access to health care? Undervalued people? Political corruption and strife?

I closed my eyes in the darknesss. A smile slowly met my lips. My heart swelled.


Alleluhia. For community. And love. For family. And faith. And friends. For healing. And growing. For those who reach out, to hold up each other, in the darkest of their darkness. For living on.


  1. Thank you for that! Your thoughts are truly beautiful.... I think we are all so thankful for Heartline Hospital and the family it created. Peace to you my friend as you continue to serve Haiti!

  2. ...and thanks to one heckofa PA.

    A big white truck driver.

  3. A beautiful post. I recall being in a boys home in an orphanage in Ouanaminthe and seeing them do devotions before bedtime. They didn't just go through the motions. It was powerfully clear that there wasn't the slightest doubt in their minds that they were communicating with a real God, who loved them. Most of it was in Creole (and it seemed totally spontaneous, lead by one of the boys with no prompting from any adult) but I recognized the 23rd Psalm. Outside the house folks from around Haiti were already gathering for market day. It was a very dangerous place, especially for children. So when they said, in English, "he prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies," it really struck a chord. They were weaving songs and prayers together--some of the boys lifting their hands, some on their knees, some prostrate. At one point they began singing "God of this City." The lyric "betters things are yet to come, better things are still to be done, in this city" just blew me away.

    Anyway, thanks for your beautiful post (I love how you write) and thanks for reminding me of a special evening.

    Blessings to you in all your amazing work.

  4. Alleluia for all of that and for you sharing it with us. Your words are wonderful Barbie.